Lots of water in these texts for today. And lots of water in the form of snow while I was in Indianapolis this past week! Flying home – Snowflakes on window – really had time to look at some individually and admire the beauty and particularity of each one – reminded me of how we are each unique children of God. Yet as Christians, we are all in this together – baptized into the one body of Jesus Christ.
This is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. As you can tell, we have quickly moved from the infant and toddler Jesus of Christmas and Epiphany to the now, 30-yr old Jesus, arriving on the banks of the Jordan to be baptized by John. And in all of the synoptic gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, it is from the waters of baptism that Jesus emerges to face temptation in the wilderness and then to begin his public ministry.
There are a few things I think that are important to note in this story. 1. Jesus gets baptized. Some people through the centuries have questioned this and been troubled. If Jesus was sinless, why did he have to be baptized? We do affirm that Jesus was the one human born without sin, but this should make the impact all the more significant for us. You see, his baptism sets the tone for his entire public ministry. As one scholar notes, “Jesus presented himself for baptism as an act of solidarity with a nation and a world of sinners. Jesus simply got in line with everyone who had been broken by the wear and tear of this selfish world and had all but given up on themselves and their God. . . At his baptism, he identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God.” (feasting on the word)
Which brings me to the second item of note in this baptism story: Jesus’ baptism demonstrates the kind of redemption he will bring. Just before Jesus is baptized, John has spoken to the gathered crowd of the kind of harsh judgment Jesus will bring – baptizing with fire and separating the wheat from the chaff. But in a seemingly symbolic reversal of what John has said, here is Jesus, getting in line to be baptized along with everyone else – wheat and chaff together. Jesus offers a very different picture in which all are redeemed – saints and sinners standing side by side as equal children of God. It is worth asking whether our churches today are truly willing to identify with the broken and the lost and the sinners in our lives today like Jesus did – to welcome them as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. Are we willing to stand in line and work side-by-side with those who society tells us deserve to be marginalized? Do we see ourselves as equal partners in service WITH all of God’s children? Or do we understand our ministry as doing nice things for those people over there when we decide to feel benevolent? It is worth asking whether our churches today are truly willing to identify with the broken and the lost and the sinners in our lives like Jesus did.
After Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, Luke tells us he was praying, and then heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and a voice from heaven declared: “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you, I am well pleased.” Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel has a wonderful and more folksy translation of this: “You are my dear son. I’m proud of you!”
It is interesting that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism has the voice from heaven serving as more of an introduction of Jesus to the people gathered, saying “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” But here in Like, Jesus is directly addressed by God: “You are mine.” Perhaps these are the important words of affirmation Jesus needed to hear to begin his ministry. Perhaps these are the words we all need to be reminded of as well, whether we have been baptized or not. “You are my son; you are my daughter, you are my beloved. I am proud of you!”
In his book Craddock Stories, celebrated preacher Fred Craddock tells of an evening when he and his wife were eating dinner in a little restaurant in the Smokey Mountains. A strange and elderly man came over to their table and introduced himself. “I am from around these parts,” he said. “My mother was not married, and the shame the community directed toward her was also directed toward me. Whenever I went to town with my mother, I could see people staring at us, making guesses about who my daddy was. At school, I ate lunch alone. In my early teens, I began attending a little church but always left before church was over, because I was afraid somebody would ask me what a boy like me was doing in church. One day, before I could escape, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the minister. He looked closely at my face. I knew that he too was trying to guess who my father was. ‘Well, boy, you are a child of. . .’ and then he paused. When he spoke again he said, ‘Boy, you are a child of God. I see a striking resemblance.’ Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, ‘Now, you go on and claim your inheritance.’ I left church that day a different person,” the now elderly man said. “In fact, that was the beginning of my life.”
When we claim our rightful place as children of God, our lives can truly begin. It does not matter who your mother is or who your father is or what you have done or not done in the past. When we claim our inheritance as children of God, we begin the work of discipleship.
Out of the baptismal waters, Jesus was thrust into a ministry of teaching, healing, seeking justice, praying, mourning, eating, laughing, suffering, dying, and rising to new life. Where do our baptismal waters take us?
In a few minutes, we will install three members of this community who have answered the call to serve as active elders on the Session, as spiritual leaders of this congregation. Also, we will give thanks for those completing their terms of active service. Where and how is God calling you to serve here at Northminster and in the greater world?
We are all children of God – sinner and saint, standing together at the river. Remember that you have been baptized and rejoice. If you never have been baptized, then I hope that you will pray and consider whether it is something you want to do in the near future. Whether you have been baptized or not, I urge you all to remember and to boldly claim that you are God’s beloved children. And then, emerge from those waters and joyfully share the inheritance you have received.
Walk to table.
At this time, I invite you all to come forward as you are able to remember that you are claimed by God.
Please come forward by the center aisle and draw a stone from the water. And as you do, as you feel the water on your hand, remember that God loves you and claims you as God’s own and commissions you for service. And then I invite you to hand the stone to the person behind you saying
“You are God’s beloved!”